Beyond Nirvana

The Sunday Times Culture 1999

Why Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl just wants to make real music

Not long after Kurt Cobain killed himself, while Nirvana's drummer Dave Grohl was still wondering what on earth to do next - looking for ways to deal with the loss of his friend and ways to continue his own life as a musician - Grohl's managment got a call from Tom Petty's people. Petty's band The Heartbreakers were due to perform on Saturday Night Live, and their drummer had left. Would Grohl like to sit in?

Petty's laid back style seemed a million miles from the fury of grunge. "I thought why me?" Grohl recalls. "Then, oh, i get it, he saw Nirvana Unplugged and he thinks I play drums like that."
Grohl agreed and started rehearsing. "Having gone through a long period of time thinking, I dont know if I can ever be in a band again, here I am with these guys and within two days I feel like I'm a member of the group. It was great." says Grohl.

After the show, Petty asked Grohl if he'd like to join the band permanently. Grohl remembers thinking, "I'm just a kid from Springfield, Virginia and Tom Petty wants me?"

It's a comment that sums up Grohl's character pretty well: modest to an absurd degree. Grohl wasn't "just a kid from Springfield", he was one third of the most important American band of the decade. But Grohl is one of the most down to earth people you're likely to meet in the buisness. Literally down-to-earth during our interview, since he eschews the sofa and lies down on the none-too-clean floor in his publicists office. It's the last interview of the day, and he's wilting.

In the outer office, while waiting for Grohl, I overheard his manager speaking loudly on the phone to some potential buisness associate. "I hope we can work together on this one," he says, "because together we'll be invincible."

I tell Grohl about his mooted potential invincibility. "Oh, great," he groans, "now we're taking on the world. I don't want to dominate the world."

Fair enough. He's done it once.
There Is Nothing Left To Lose is the third album from the Foo Fighters, the band that Grohl formed after turning down Petty's offer. The first album, Foo Fighters, was made entirely by Grohl himself. It garnered ecstatic and slightly incredulous reviews. Nobody expected the drummer - who had already been tagged "the grunge Ringo" - to be able to play a whole range of instruments, sing well and write excellent songs. The second album, The Colour And The Shape, showed the band (by now a real band) beginning to stretch their musical muscles, notably with the poignent ballad, Walking After You. There Is Nothing Left To Lose takes this a step further, with experiments in psychadelia and even country music, but still containing Grohl's superb pop-grunge.

While the lyrics on The Colour And The Shape centred on relationships as Grohl's marrige deteriorated, There Is Nothing Left To Lose concerns itself with new beginnings. "After Nirvana there's the Foo Fighters. You have this new beginning," says Grohl "After a divorce there's a new beginning. And going back to Virginia was a new beginning too."

Grohl left Los Angeles for his home state, a year and a half ago. The contrast between Virginia and LA clearly informs much of the album, both in the grunge-country of Ain't It the Life (which Grohl says he genuinely wrote "sitting out on the porch, with my acoustic guitar, listening to the crickets") and in the anti-Hollywood lyrics of the opening track, Stacked Actors.

This song is guaranteed to receive attention primarily because of its attack on Courtney Love, Cobain's widow and frontwoman of the band Hole. "God bless, what a sensitive mess/ Yeah, but things aren't always as they seem/ See through you, but what can you do/ When you're dressed like an ageing drag queen?" Musical injury is added to insult when this verse is followed by the most Cobainesque chorus Grohl has ever written. Grohl has conceded that the lyrics refer to Love, but maintains that he's trying to make a much wider point about the Hollywood- isation of rock music.

"Stacked Actors is my release after having lived in Los Angeles for a year and a half," he says. "I'm venting - definitely - my disdain and disgust for everything that is Hollywood. I had a lot of trouble understanding the general mentality of the city, which is people wanting to be someone else."

Grohl's hatred of Hollywood stems from his dislike of a new wave of rock stars who put image ahead of music. This was, of course, the problem to which Nirvana was the solution. "In the late 1980s, music turned into a circus sideshow," says Grohl. "What happened in the early 1990s was a response to not having anything to believe in, so here comes some music that seems to be real and everyone can relate to, and they just happen to be very ordinary people. Then that gets a little boring after a while; people miss having an Alice Cooper. So somewhere along the line comes someone who says,

'I am a rock star', but rather than making good music they rely on the image or the myth of the rock star, so the star tries to save rock'n'roll rather than rock music trying to save rock'n'roll.

"I fell in love with the idea that musicians are only musicians, people are only people," Grohl continues. "So when I see all that Hollywood rock star stuff, my passion for real music made by real people is a million times more intense than when I was 18 years old and raging against the machine. Just listen to music, don't look at it, just listen to it: throw all that rock star bullshit out the window and you'll find something to believe in.

"It's not like I'm the king of fucking rock'n'roll. I just enjoy listening to it," he adds.

You were one of them for a while, I suggest.

"Well . . . " Grohl stares intently at the carpet (not easy when you're lying on it) and mumbles, "not really".

Oh, you were.

Words:Mark Edwards